Bahia Shehab- A thousand times no

Today I asked TED to inspire me with courageous talks and they gave me this.   
Shehab is a Lebanese- Egyptian artist, associate professor at the American University in Cairo and the Creative director of M17 Cairo. Since the Egyptian revolution in early 2011 she can be described as a political activist.  
In 2010 Shehab was invited to join an exhibition commemorating the anniversary of 100 years of Arabic art in Europe. Her only brief was that she must use the Arabic language. Shehab felt that one word summed up the feelings of an artist, woman and Arab at that time. That word was ‘No’.     
Shehab travelled from Spain to China, collecting 1000 different representations of the word, ‘No’, from the past 1400 years from vases, tombstones and walls. When the Egyptian revolution struck in 2011, Shehab decided she couldn’t stand seeing people being killed and thrown like garbage on the street. She took to the streets spray-painting the word, ‘No’ in a series of images on walls throughout Cairo. Images included; “No to stripping the people”, which was accompanied by a painting of a blue bra representing that of one woman publicly stripped by soldiers; “No to burning books”, and “No to violence.” Shehab also shows a photograph of one large wall painted by a series of artists; firstly, displaying a life-sized tank, next, covered in blood as violence hit, after that, adorned with the head of an army leader depicted as a monster. Shehab added her stencils to the wall and until the time of her talk she reports that’s how it remained. The whole image is reminiscent of some of Banksy’s work and demonstrates the powerful message street art can convey.     
Shebab’s talk, disappointingly, is less than six minutes long , although it is accessible for even a ‘TED virgin’. There’s further information on her work in a later TED blog post, where Shehab describes a campaign she sprayed on the streets in May and June 2012. Her aim was to remind people of the reasons for the revolution prior to the presidential elections. This campaign was eloquent and simple. Shehab named it, “There are people”. The five stencils read:
– There are people who have had their head put to the ground so you can hold your head high
– There are people who have been stripped naked so you can live decently.
– There are people who have lost their eyes so you can see.
– There are people who have been imprisoned so you can live freely.
– There are people who have died so you can live.   
Shehab is a brave and outspoken woman who has been commended by members of the public in Cairo for her work. Numerous articles in publications from the Guardian to the New Yorker count women as being at the forefront of the revolution. They make interesting further reading after Shehab’s talk, with some worryingly stating that women’s rights have regressed since 2011. They quote infringements such as the state’s humiliating virginity tests and the spate of attacks on women. The female twitter spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, Sandos Asem dismisses these reports, stating that Islamic parties haven’t been in power for over 60 years and couldn’t have been responsible for the deterioration in women’s rights. Perhaps only time will tell.


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